<i>"Big Brother is watching you."
-#8212; From "1984," the George Orwell novel published in 1949.</i><br>
Until last week, I tried to pretend that my thermostat wasn't spying on me.
But the swarm of news and commentary about the sale of Nest Labs to Google left me with nowhere to hide. The page-one headline in The Press Democrat posed the ominous question of the day: "Google skulking into our homes?"
In a storm of indignation, I suppose I should now tear my Nest thermostat from the wall and return the old, ugly, confusing device that lived there for many years.
But it turns out I like my new "learning thermostat." Its design is beautiful and intuitive. It adapts to my schedule and monitors my energy consumption. It can be turned up or down from anywhere with a couple of touches of my iPhone.
It is, in a word, cool -#8212; one of those inventions that causes us to wonder how we lived for so many years with devices that were so primitive.
This is the challenge, isn't it? In the Information Age, we seek to embrace the wonders, conveniences and economic advantages of new technology without surrendering to corporations and governments the power to gather information about every aspect of our lives.
The Nest, after all, is not the first potential intrusion on our privacy. In a few short years, we have welcomed into our home all kinds of devices that connect to the Internet -#8212; computers, tablets, smartphones, printers, TV receivers, appliances and more. Facebook, Google, Apple, Amazon, Pandora -#8212; countless companies big and small are making a good living by monitoring our shopping and consumption habits.
They say they're just being helpful -#8212; and often they are.
What we know is that this new technology is incredibly powerful. Someone out there knows where we are, who we call, what we buy, what movies we watch, what songs we listen to.
And history isn't much help teaching us how to control this technology. In short, we've never been here before.
In 2010, two former engineers at Apple -#8212; where they helped create the iPod -#8212; started a new company to design and market user-friendly, Internet-connected thermostats (and more recently, smoke and carbon monoxide detectors).
Last week, they sold their new company to Google for $3.2 billion.
Two days later, page one of the New York Times served up two stories that remind us why Internet privacy is such a big concern.
The first disclosed that the National Security Agency has implanted software in nearly 100,000 computers around the world, software useful for both surveillance and for cyber-attacks. In some cases, the story said, secret technology was used to insert the software into computers that aren't even connected to the Internet.
The second story outlined President Barack Obama's plans to impose new limits on government spying.
Do we trust governments and corporations to always look out for our best interests? Well, no. It's hard to even ask the question and keep a straight face.
Even when they mean well, recent history has demonstrated that politicians and governments are ill-equipped to understand and keep pace with rapid change. Consider the website created to support the Affordable Care Act. Consider the state of California's serial misadventures in computer systems.